Sermon Notes

Ephesians 3:14-21 November 21, 1999
From Information to Sensation

Several years ago a theater manager in Seoul, South Korea felt that The Sound of Music was too long, so he shortened it… by cutting out all the songs. The point of the movie was there; all the needed information was given, but it lacked that special something: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s score.

In much the same way, we often excise the music, the joy, the sensation from our Christian life by learning the truth of the Gospel without ever letting the music settle into our lives. We have all the right information, but none of the sensation. Paul, in Ephesians 3:14-21 prays for his readers that they move from information to sensation.

14. For this reason I kneel before the Father,
15. from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

16. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,

17. so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,
18. may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,

19. and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,

21. to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 is the pivotal point in Ephesians. Here Paul makes the transition from the foundation of doctrine to the structure of ethics; he moves from what we are to believe to how we are to live. The first half of the letter tells us who we are in Christ. Without that information we are hopelessly lost. But from that we must go the next step to answer the question: in light of my standing in Christ, how am I now to live?" This is a prayer for you and me to move from information to sensation, from the theoretical to the tangible.

This is the second prayer in the short letter. The first prayer (1:15-23) was for enlightenment; the emphasis here is for enablement. The first prayer is that we better understand the Gospel; now Paul goes to the next step and prays that we integrate the truth of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection with our lives so that God’s glory would shine out in the Church. Unfortunately we don’t take this truth to heart. We are content with the truth we have mastered without ever allowing the truth to master us. We love our information but are frightened of it ever shaking us to the foundation.

What keeps information from becoming sensation?

When we split emotion and thinking we keep information from becoming sensation

Let’s face it, Presbyterians are never the sorts of folks to be accused of being carried away by their emotions. There is good reason we are termed the "frozen chosen." In an effort to stem the tide of sentiment from ruling the day, of muddied pathos dictating what should be done, we tend to hold back on experience. We tend to split doctrine from experience.

But such a dichotomy is unheard of in Scripture. We are to neither set aside our thinking in order to experience God better, nor are we to stifle our feelings in favor of memorizing cold facts about God. As Christianity is a relationship with the living triune God, we must both know truth about our heavenly Father and also respond to Him with God-given emotions.

Paul expresses incredible emotion in this passage.

In the original Greek, Paul’s style becomes soaring with feeling. With tremendous intellect he sketches phrases and thoughts to express a depth of passion we rarely see. The emotional charge is seen from the beginning where he describes his posture - he kneels.

To us kneeling in prayer is not unheard of; in some churches the congregation kneels as part of the corporate worship. But for a Jew in the first century kneeling was not the typical form. Jesus speaks of people standing on the street corners to pray, of the Pharisee and tax collector standing in the temple to pray. Standing, as a sign of respect, was the more common form. Today in Jerusalem, Jews gather at the Wailing Wall to pray - standing.

Yet kneeling was not unheard of. Jesus in the garden knelt in prayer. Falling on the knees was the response of one in absolute dependence. It was the sign of incredible emotion. In light of all the Father has done for us to make us His own, in joining the Jew and Gentile so that the Church is a new entity in the universe, Paul’s only response is one of being overcome so that he falls to his knees.

Paul’s joining of emotion and intellect is seen in verse 19. He prays that we would know love that surpasses knowledge.

Notice he doesn’t say that we should feel what can’t be understood, as though the intellect is limited but emotions are infinite and our hearts are more powerful than our minds. No. Paul keeps the two together as they ought to be. By God’s grace, know the unknowable.

This joining and maintaining of emotions and intellect is well illustrated by two of the greatest thinkers who were also fervent believers. These two great geniuses were extremely cerebral, intellectual, but their religious affections were likewise very present.

The first is Blaize Pascal. He was a mathematician, laying the groundwork for probability and statistics. When he died they found a diary which he wrote after he had an experience with God and had sewn inside his coat, so it would always be with him. Here is what it said:

In the year of grace, 1654, Monday, 23rd November, Day of St. Clement. From about half past ten in the evening to half past an hour after midnight…Fire! God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the god of the philosophers and of the learned. Certainty joy, certainty emotion, sight joy. Forgetfulness of the world and all outside of God. The world has not known thee, but now I have known thee, Joy Joy Joy. Tears of joy. My God do not leave, let me not ever be separate from you.

What happened? The reality of Christ dwelling in his heart. He could not separate what he knew and what he felt.

The second person has been called the greatest intellect born on American soil, Jonathan Edwards. Listen to what he wrote in his diary.

Once as I rode out into the woods for my health in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place as my manner had commonly been to walk for contemplation and prayer, suddenly had a view that for me was extraordinary of the glory of the Son of God, as mediator between God and man and his wonderful great, pure, sweet grace and love and his meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared was so calm and sweet it appeared so great above the heavens, the person of Christ appeared so enfeebly excellent with an excellence that was great enough to swallow up all thought and conception. And I continued in this state near as I can judge for about an hour that kept me a greater part of the time in a flood of tears and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be full of Christ alone to love him with a whole and pure love and to trust in him, to live upon him, to serve and follow him to be made perfectly pure with a divine and heavenly purity.

What happened? This: he grasped the height, width and breath of the love of Christ.

According to the Bible religion is not a form of feeling to the exclusion of the intellect, nor a form of knowledge to the exclusion of the feelings. Christ dwells in the heart, in the comprehensive sense of the word. He is the source of spiritual life to the whole soul; of spiritual knowledge as well as of spiritual affections. What have you settled for, do you know anything like this?

You know Christ lives in your heart. But do you know Christ indwelling?

When we split individual and community we keep information from becoming sensation

I can’t spend much time here, but it is such a pertinent theme throughout Paul’s letter we must once again be reminded of its truth. One of the most effective means to keep the truth of the Gospel from ever settling into your life is to excise the body from the head, to imagine you can maintain a relationship with Christ apart from the Bride of Christ.

If you want to get to know me, we can talk over coffee, you can stop by my office, but you’ll never see what I’m really like. If you want to know me, you have to spend time with Janet and me, together. She brings the real me out; she triggers the jokester, the laughter, the real me.

Notice how Paul views the integral nature of the individual and the community. In a prayer in which he prays that his readers would wrestle with the implications of the Gospel, look at what he says.

He begins with a reminder of our inherent connection with one another. In verse 15 Paul prays to a God who relates to a family. Having in the previous chapter described the unity which exists in the church and before moving to the implications of this theology which is ethics lived out in the community, Paul is reminded of our union together.

Paul continues to show the importance of the individual and the community when he prays in verse 18. He asks that God would strengthen you in the inner being. If you stop there we have an intensely individual, personal view. But Paul continues. Not only is Christ to dwell in our hearts, but that inward dwelling is the foundation for our grasping Christ’s love even more. But how are we to grasp this love? "Together with all the saints!"

In the doxology at the end notice where the Father’s glory is found. We would expect the latter, but the former should come as a surprise. "To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…" The church is the repository of God’s glory. If you want to gather a glimpse of the awesome greatness of our God, gather around those who profess faith in Christ.

Modern people want spirituality without being a part of a church. We don’t want to be accountable, to be a part of a group. We certainly want the experience, just not the institution. But the Bible knows nothing of this bifurcation, this splitting. It refuses to remove individual from the community.

Unless you have Christian brothers and sisters with whom you are dialoguing, praying, talking with, you will not be able to grasp what Paul is praying about here. You don’t retreat away from thinking to gain this experience; you don’t leave the Church, the community, to gain this. Real experience of God comes as these areas are in dynamic tension. Unfortunately, in our time, many have a low view of the Church. Scripture suggests that one cannot have a low view of the Church, without also having a low view of Christ. Why? If the Church is the Bride of Christ, the body of Christ, how could we possibly love the Lord Jesus, and despise His Body? Yet that is what some do. Some think they don't need the Church. Some think they are sufficient all to themselves. Some think worship and service are wastes of time. Some think they don't need to be members of the Church.

How will information become sensation?

Spiritual preparation - verses 16-17

Notice what Paul prays for first of all: that God would do something within us. In order for Christ to dwell within, God the Holy Spirit must first prepare our hearts. Before you can begin to grasp all that God has done, God must first get hold of your mind and heart. At the very core of who you are there must be a change.

Those glorious riches are what Paul listed in the first chapters. Just as he prayed before in 1:18 that "the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints," so now he prays that God would take these truths and firmly implant them in your life. His prayer is that we move beyond toying with the divine, but rather grapple with these truths so that our lives would be radically changed. The trouble is, this is not something you or I can do on our own. You must begin by knowing you are incapable, that this is a gift. This is a work of God’s grace. So in this prayer, Paul goes after the source of the gift; he goes to the God who loves to give.

You can’t get Christian experience by going after the experience, you can only get it by going after God. If you want experience and not God you’ll never get experience. God is the source.

When you date someone and that person likes to kiss you, you don’t want to believe that all they want are kisses and not you. You want them to want you. You may find that person only really wants is a kiss… from anybody… you just happen to be there. Then the kiss loses everything. If you go after the kiss and not the person, the kiss is nothing.

Unfortunately there are those who want the excitement of being a Christian, the joy, the peace, but they want nothing to do with the God who gives such excitement, joy and peace. You need to ask yourself this question: Am I here because this does something for me, I enjoy the excitement, the charge… or am I here because of the One who gives the sensation?

Paul’s prayer is that this spiritual preparation will result in a permanent dwelling, that Christ may dwell in your hearts. The word used here speaks not of a temporary stay, not just an overnight visit, but a settling down, making oneself at home. Paul here is not talking about salvation, but about fellowship with Christ, not about the fact of Christ's presence but the quality of His residence.

Gospel comprehension 18-19

This work of God’s grace in taking the information of the Gospel and making it a sensation, making it a tangible reality, brings us to the final point of the prayer. Not only would God prepare our hearts, but enable us to comprehend how the Gospel affects our lives so completely.

Friday was a special anniversary for Janet and me. It was 28 years ago, on Friday, November 19, 1971 that I first met Janet. I knew certain facts about her. She was from Philadelphia, which meant she talked funny, such as when she said "Murray Christmas". We were both in sixth grade. There wasn’t much to our relationship. I knew who she was and that was that. But there as a point where I moved from knowing about Janet, to knowing Janet. My attention changed on February 6, 1978 when I realized that she was pretty nice to be around. My other friends shifted to second place. She preoccupied my thoughts; she was the first person I thought of when I awoke and the last person on my mind when I went to sleep. But that knowing deepened when, on September 4, 1982 I pledged to her my love. But that love has not stagnated; it goes deeper and deeper. I am still just beginning to get a grasp on that love.

It is this grasping which forms the heart of Paul’s prayer. This is what Paul is praying for, that we grasp Christ’s love. This is where the information of Christ’s death for us becomes a sensation.

Paul uses a great word to describe how we are to respond to the foundation laid by the Holy Spirit; he uses the Greek word katalambanoo which means to ambush, surprise. conquer.

Why this word? It is one thing to know that God is love; it is another to see it, taste it, hear it. Here Paul prays that we could touch Christ’s love. Paul uses a word which is reserved for the tangible. He prays not just that we can outline God’s love, not that we can describe it. All through high school I could have described Janet Jolly. It was not until we were pronounced husband and wife that I could begin to grasp that love.

What does this Gospel comprehension look like? What is it like when, by God’s grace, the information of what Christ has done becomes a sensation in our life?

Maybe your father said: "You will never amount to anything." You sense that on your heart. This is not some fact you’ve memorized. It is etched on your heart. You can say, " On April 19, 1969 my father said I was trash. I remember that!" That is information, but very possibly that information is very much a sensation, too. It controls you. It is always fresh and vivid. Always new, a surprise, re-happening. It controls the way you live. Every time those words ring in your ears, you are ten again and you feel the disapproval of your father; you sense the quaking in your knees; your stomach turns once again.

Now you come to the Scripture and you read that God says that He will never leave your or forsake you, that when the Father in heaven looks upon us He sees His own Son; He loved us from eternity past. He sees you as a complete beauty. Do you know that? I hope you do. But next question comes… Do you have a sense of that? Or is that just information?

How can you tell which is more true in you? When you hear what God says more than what your father said; when you taste what God says more than what your father said; what God says is sweeter, more vivid, more controlling; when the immediate sensation is God’s love for you more than anything else - then you are grasping Christ’s love.

What is it we are to grasp? Paul piles the dimensions up so that we are confronted with the infinite degree of Christ’s love. What we are to grasp is something that goes beyond principles and rules, beyond bone dry statements of objective fact to that which controls our lives, our thoughts.

Every other religion will say "Here are the principles, the rules, here is how you find God. Meditate on the rules and you’ll grow closer to God."

But Paul does not tell us to meditate on the attributes of God, not on the wisdom of God, not the glory of God. It is not driven by principles. What is the focus here is the love of Christ.

To move from information to sensation we have to spend time at the Cross. The dimensions of redeeming love are admirable: The breadth, and length, and depth, and height. By enumerating these dimensions, Paul reminds us of the surpassing greatness of Christ’s love for us. This love is higher than heaven, deeper than hell, longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. Our minds will spend all eternity considering this truth and we will never exhaust its topic. Your old age will never wear out Christ’s love for you; your continued struggles with faith will never exhaust it; your successive temptations will never drain it dry.

While imprisoned for his faith, Samuel Rutherford wrote from the dank Aberdeen dungeon: "Love, love (I mean Christ's love), is the hottest coal that ever I felt. Oh, but the smoke of it be hot! Cast all the salt sea on it, it will flame; hell cannot quench it; many, many waters will not quench love."

For those who have never experienced Christ's love, no words will suffice. For those who have experienced it, no words will do. What about you? Is God’s love just information or is it a sensation?

(I wish to acknowledge Rev. Timothy Keller’s sermon Knowledge and the Love of God, July 12, 1998 from Redeemer Presbyterian Church for some of the material used in this sermon)

Sermon Notes